cle elum

Changing Our Forests from Top to Bottom

Written & Photographed by Zoe van Duivenbode, Marketing Intern

From bumpy off-roading trails and peaceful stream to exciting wildlife views and forestry education, our trip to The Nature Conservancy’s Manastash-Taneum preserve was nothing short of an adventure. Earlier this week, a group of TNC staff traveled to Cle Elum to learn more about the complex challenges centered around eastern cascade forests, headwaters and communities. This regions checkerboard like landscape, in terms of ownership and management, is slowly transforming into a more unified region for public access and conservation. Under the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, TNC is partnered with private, state and tribal groups to ensure that these forested lands can be enjoyed by the public and also preserved for wildlife. 

Our tour began with a panoramic view that overlooked valleys of densely forested hills with residential communities, Cle Elum Ridge and lake Cle Elum seen in the distance. This viewpoint painted the perfect portrait of some of the challenges TNC faces when planning for restoration and resiliency. Below we could see urban areas vulnerable to forest fires, critical habitat for endangered and threatened fish and wildlife and recreational trails for mountain bikes and off-road vehicles. Our Senior Forest Ecologist, Ryan Haugo, spoke about his plan to manage these lands in a way that positively benefits to both nature and people through large landscape restoration.

While driving through the preserve, we passed through areas that were previously effected by a moderate forest fire a few seasons ago. This burned region provided a great example of the difference between healthy and unhealthy forest fires. As we traveled higher in evaluation, we were lucky to spot four adolescent elk roaming in the woods! We stopped to take photos and watch them dash across the dirt road in front of us. After enjoying a nice lunch along a stream, we continued on and drove beside the riparian forest which lead us to open grass meadows. On our last stop of the tour, we hiked down to a river bed where Emily Howe, Aquatic Ecologist, bravely picked up a large crawdad to assess if it was native or non-native to this region. After a long day spent exploring the forests, riverbeds, and scenic views of TNC’s central cascade preserve, I found myself already planning the next time I can come back.

Interested in visiting preserves like this? Check out our upcoming event to Lake Cle Elum!


Finding Tracks in the Central Cascades

Photographed by Brian Mize, Field Forester; Lara Gricar, Central Cascades Community Coordinator

Our Central Cascades forest team was lucky enough to see bear tracks on our land! The tracks were on our land on the South Cle Elum Ridge. It is likely the bear recently awoke from a winter of slumber! See the photos in the slideshow above!

Learn more about our work in forests.

Connect and restore forests to break the cycle of megafire

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Fragmented ownership and poor management have left our state’s forests primed for catastrophic fire.

Written by Robin Stanton, Media Relations Manager
Photograph by Benj Drummond/LightHawk

Weaving the land back together and implementing big restoration actions that cross ownership boundaries will help prevent megafires. 

CONNECTING FORESTS

If you look at a map that shows ownership boundaries in Washington’s eastern forests, you’ll notice a distinctive checkerboard pattern of public and private ownership. That’s a legacy of the land grants of the 1860s, when the federal government gave alternating square miles of land to the railroads to encourage them to reach the West Coast.

Today, that fragmented pattern has led to more development in the midst of the forest where it’s vulnerable to fire and breaks up habitat and recreation areas. It also means forests have been managed piecemeal, without a holistic, science-based plan for largescale restoration.

The Conservancy has been working for more than 10 years to fix this fragmentation, by bringing more of these private lands into public and conservation ownership. Our most recent acquisition of 48,000 acres in the Central Cascades is a big step forward in this work.

RESTORING FORESTS

A recent study by Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service scientists show that 2.88 million acres of eastern Washington forests are in need of restoration, both by thinning trees and using controlled burning to clear out forest fuels that have accumulated for a century.

We’ve led the way with a pilot restoration project on 20,000 acres in the Oak Creek Wildlife Area west of Yakima where we thinned understory trees and shrubs according to a carefully designed plan: Cutting away small 10- and 20-year-old Douglas firs gives 400-year-old ponderosa pines light, air and water to thrive. Thinning smaller trees also prepares the forest for controlled burning, which further enhances the forest’s resilience to future wildfires.

Today, we’re working through the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative (see below) to plan and implement an 80,000-acre restoration project in the Manastash-Taneum area east of Cle Elum. This collaborative restoration will encompass federal, state, and Conservancy forest lands and is expected to get underway this year.

It’s essential that the Conservancy and committed partners act quickly to restore eastern Washington forests to make them less vulnerable to megafires. Forest collaboratives comprised of private stakeholders, as well as state and federal agencies, are coming together across the West to overcome barriers and find solutions to the issue of improving forests’ resiliene and health. The Nature Conservancy is engaged in and is a leading partner of many of these collaborative groups in Washington:

Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative: The Conservancy took a lead role in forming the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative in 2006 with the aim of bringing together state and federal agencies, the Yakama Nation, and private landowners to increase the pace, quality, and scale of restoration projects across 2.3 million acres of eastern Washington forest.

Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition: The Nature Conservancy is engaged in the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, a group of diverse stakeholders working together since 2002 to promote forest restoration that is beneficial to forest health, public safety, and local economies. The coalition’s priorities, such as fuels reduction projects, serve as examples of successful collaborative work for the public and similar organizations.

North Central Washington Forest Collaborative: The Conservancy is a leading partner in initiating The North Central Washington Forest Collaborative.

The Nature Conservancy helped to establish the Washington Prescribed Fire Council, a coalition of agencies and stakeholders working to safely introduce more prescribed fire into the landscape.

The Shape of Our Forests - A Geology Walk

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A glimpse into the fascinating past of Washington Forests

Written by Erica Simek Sloniker, Conservation Information Manager
Photographed by Tomas Corsini, Northwest Photographer

Big data is all buzz in the news today, but what exactly is it?

Big data is a broad term used for data sets so large or complex that is difficult to process using traditional techniques. Geologic time is a lot like big data. The Earth’s history starts 4.5 billion years ago, but what does that really mean to our lives today? With a history so vast, how can we begin to comprehend our place in time?

I gave a geology talk to Nature Conservancy staff at a staff field trip on our newly acquired forest preserve in Central Washington, near Cle Elum. Surrounded by the Cascade mountains, the Stuart Range within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and on the western edge of the Columbia Pleateau, I attempted to help staff better understand Washington’s geologic history within the vast context of geologic time.

“I need 6 volunteers”, I told the group. Six people walked forward to help hold a 4.5 meter (about 15 feet) string that, when stretched out, marked a few of earth’s major geologic milestones. Each meter on the string represented 1 billion years, each millimeter 1 million years.

Washington is known for its beautiful mountain peaks, meandering coastlines, and its arid landscapes. Due to geologic forces, the Washington we know today gives us a glimpse into its fascinating and complex geologic past. The oldest rocks in Washington are dated to be around 1 billion years old. Just west of present day Spokane and Pullman, the ancient coastline of North America once boasted an abundance of life. Volcanic island arcs from far off places, collided and welded themselves to our ancient coastline, slowly adding more land mass to our state.

It wasn’t until 55 million years ago, that the Pacific Northwest had begun to approximate its present geographic configuration. Since this time, volcanic events dominated northwest geologic history including the building of the Cascade mountain range and fissuring that caused the Columbia River lava flows. More recently, 2 million years ago, a large ice sheet covered the northern portion of our state carving out deep basins like the Puget Sound and depositing vast amounts of sediment. In eastern Washington, just 15,000 years ago, enormous floods from melting ice, holding the water capacity similar of Lake Erie and Ontario, repeatedly thundered across the landscape from the Columbia Plateau to the Pacific Ocean.

“Everyone, take a look at the present day on the geologic time string”, I said. A billion years, Washington’s early beginnings, is less than 1/5th of this string. The early beginning of human kind is only a thumbnail long. Our species, homo sapians, around for just 200,000 years, is but a tiny fraction of a millimeter, unrecognizable to us on this long string.

Our lives in the present day are just a spec in geologic time, yet our actions are vital to the future condition of the ancient landscape around us and all of us who depend on it. A million years goes by fast. What will our legacy be?

G. Tomas Corsini Sr. is a freelance Northwest based photographer working on projects in Digital Media to include: Photography, Video Productions, Video Editing, Web Content Management, Motion Graphics, Graphics Illustration, and more. Learn more about his work here.

Exploring the Central Cascades - Our All Staff Field trip

All-staff meeting at our 48,000 acre Central Cascades acquisition!

Written by Ashley Collings, Philanthropy Administrator
Photographed by Tomas Corsini, Northwest Photographer

Last week, our entire staff had the opportunity to take a field trip out to our newly acquired lands in the Central Cascades. Since we are spread out all over the state, our leadership team makes an enormous effort for us to get together on a quarterly basis to exchange ideas and spend time together as a cohesive team. It’s not easy to coordinate a staff of over 70 people to meet in the wilderness, but it’s something our office culture highly values.

This time we were lucky enough to view the results of a year of hard work to purchase this beautiful land. We met just outside the town of Roslyn, WA and caravanned up to the top of a mountain. From our lookout spot we could see Roslyn and Cle Elum, as well as Mt. Stewart and off in the very distance, Mt. Rainier.

We split up into three experiences. One could choose to learn about forestry and use the tools a forester would use. Another choice was to take a geology walk where the participants learned that the Cascades are a “young” mountain range at only 9 million years old! Or you could commune with nature and take an easy hike through the woods, which we dubbed the Hippie Hike. We also learned about the increasing fire risk to these forests as Washington continues in the drought season.

Meetings like this not only allow us to get out into the field (a major reason why many of us work for The Nature Conservancy), but it also reconnects us to the mission of our organization. There is something very powerful about standing on the side of a mountain and seeing trees and snowcaps and turkey vultures everywhere you look. Lastly, this trip allowed each of us to bond with our coworkers in a way that just can’t be replicated in the office. It’s a different experiencing hiking through the woods with your teammates than sitting at a computer writing emails back and forth.

And thankfully, the weather cooperated! We had a fantastic day!

G. Tomas Corsini Sr. is a freelance Northwest based photographer working on projects in Digital Media to include: Photography, Video Productions, Video Editing, Web Content Management, Motion Graphics, Graphics Illustration, and more. Learn more about his work here.

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Cle Elum Open House

By Stephanie Burgart, Contracts and Conservation Program Coordinator
Photographs by Tom Bugert & Benj Drummond/LightHawk

“Over here there’s still room,” he commented.

The gentleman, part of a crowd in the large hall of the Cle Elum Putnam Centennial Senior Center, was sharing his reasons for why the lands of the Eastern Cascades are important to his family. They live on the West side of the Cascades, where cities and suburbs encroach more and more on recreational land areas. His comment, and the many others like it, point to a love of outdoor activities in any capacity, and room to enjoy them.

His comment was just one of many shared at the first of three community open houses focused on The Nature Conservancy’s purchase of forestland in the Central Cascades.

Off road vehicle users are a huge interest group in places like Cle Elum, Roslyn, and Ronald. ATVs, side by sides, snowmobiles, street legal bikes, and more take thousands of people into the Cascades every year. Folks who love this form of recreation were active participants in the meeting.

Others spoke of how the local economies benefit from tourists coming to enjoy the backyards of these towns. For others, the best use of the land is for nature – wildlife habitat, forest restoration and untouched wilderness.

Since purchasing 47,921 acres of land from Plum Creek along the I-90 corridor, TNC has engaged interest groups of the surrounding communities in conversations about why this land is a treasure to those who live and play in the area. The open house, the first in a series of three, continued these talks with members of the general public.

Everyone echoed the desire for healthy forests, wildfire protection, water quality and quantity, and recreational use of the land. Maps were drawn on, post it notes stuck up, and comments recorded. It was heartening to see so many people gathered because of a shared and deep love of this place. Those who made it to this event added important pieces to the conversation, and in the next two open houses, there’s still room.

Related Blog Posts

Community engagement critical to conservation

Central Cascades Project Details

Forests for Our Future